El Perro Del Mar, aka Sarah Assbring, has been a stalwart of the Swedish indie-pop scene for more than half a decade, dealing in sweet, airy compositions that whisper of a resonant discomfort. On her fifth album, she discovers a new direction—and sounds all the better for it. Pale Fire opens with the title track, a horn section subtly but insistently ushering in the album. With this record, she has surely arrived in a new place.
Her self-titled 2006 LP was an ode to anxiety, where she declared, “I don’t understand people,” and sounded devastatingly fragile in the process. Three albums later, Assbring is still a bit of a loner, but she’s figured out much more about it. “Solitude’s my best friend,” she intones on “Walk On By.” Where melancholy might be expected, there’s a self-assurance that comes with maturity and figuring out one’s place, and Assbring sounds like she’s settled into herself.
“Home Is To Feel Like That” and “I Carry The Fire” are possibly some of her most striking songs, the former laden with electronic touches and the latter balancing the lightness of Assbring’s voice over muscular production. Her previous output could be considered exercises in delicate beauty, but there’s a stronger pulse to Pale Fire. This more powerful presence is even reflected in a song title, on “To The Beat Of A Dying World.” That track finds Assbring singing, “I don’t want to be alone,” a key moment in this collection of songs that have discovered a greater sense of urgency. There’s no doubt that these are love songs, and they have genuine power behind them.
The themes of light and dark are explored in turns on the record; there’s “Pale Fire” itself, “I Carry The Fire” and “Hold Off The Dawn.” Pale Fire closes with “Dark Night,” a rhythmic meditation that fades out like the moment before sleep and celebrates the subtle beauty spread throughout this album.